Here's the only time Peter Sellers collaborated with director Blake Edwards outside of the "Pink Panther" series. Like those films, Sellers plays a clumsy foreigner with a goofy accent, but 1968's "The Party" has a distinctly different tone than the Inspector Clouseau capers.
The story: A bumbling Indian actor is fired after botching a big Hollywood film, but ends up accidentally invited to a glamourous party at his producer's house. Hijinks ensue.
Who's Sellers? Hrundi V. Bakshi, a kind-hearted but highly accident-prone Indian actor in Hollywood. Now, Sellers playing an Indian is the biggest problem in watching "The Party" today. You couldn't really get away with a white actor slapping a bunch of makeup on and playing a minority in 2011; even 40 years ago it was probably a bit tacky. So there is that uncomfortable squirm element to watch "The Party" today, as Sellers comes close to racial caricature. But yet, despite the "brownface" factor, I found Hrindi a sympathetic character -- Sellers, whose impersonation of an Indian is pretty remarkable, tries not to make him a total stereotype. Part of the fun of "The Party" is watching this shy, courtly, repressed outsider find his bliss.
So how is it: Amusing as it is, "The Party" takes a little while to truly get going -- but director Blake Edwards clearly means the stilted, dry early party scenes to contrast with the unfettered anarchy that spills out in the final act. A dull mogul's gathering turns into a freaky happening. There's a lot of funny gags here (the drunken waiter manages to upstage Sellers in several scenes), yet "The Party" is really lacking in plot or character development. Sellers makes Hrindi likeable, but we know next to nothing about him other than that he's a bad actor from India. His "love interest," a French singer, is even less developed. It's a series of skits strung together with a loose structure. The plot swerves hard when a previously unmentioned daughter of the film producer and a gang of the cleanest-cut hippies you've ever seen storm the house in the final scenes.
Yet what I really liked about "The Party" is how successfully in its early scenes it captures the feeling of being the only outsider at a party, of being the aimless guy shuffling about trying to find a conversation to get into. This stillness is where Sellers really excels, that outsider sensation compounded by Hrindi's foreignness. And as an example of that distinctly '60s film genre -- uptight squares get their hippie-fried comeuppance -- it's a fun if slightly awkward time capsule today.
Quote: "Birdie num num?" (Of course!)